Democratically accountable monarchy

In brief: the monarch should be subject to recall motions in the same way as every other position of power. This proposal is not currently part of our manifesto and will need explicit approval from the membership to become party policy.

Many people feel that the monarchy in its current form fatally compromises the legitimacy of the British political system, finding it impossible to respect a constitution in which the person who in principle has ultimate authority is widely regarded as a figurehead with no real power – a figurehead who presides over a system in which accountability is regarded as paramount but whose own position is unassailable.

Local Sovereignty’s view is that the figurehead nature of the monarchy creates a void at the heart of government and that this stems from the fact that their position is unassailable: the monarch cannot be allowed any substantial power precisely because the constitution provides no mechanism for withdrawing it.

Without an effective Head of State, however, there is nobody to integrate the different branches of government and nobody to arbitrate when there is conflict between them – nobody, in short, to act as overseer of the whole system. The result, under our current constitution, is that the Judicial branch fears to infringe the authority of Parliament and therefore feels unable to demand high legislative standards, while the Legislative and Executive branches have become so entwined that  the functions of both have become irredeemably compromised.

We consider the argument that the monarch is merely a figurehead to be deeply flawed: the monarch has the power to refuse to ratify an Act of Parliament and to dismiss Parliament and force a General Election. These are significant powers and the fact that using them would trigger a constitutional crisis constrains but certainly does not destroy them. And those constraints work for both good and ill: the unaccountable monarch is prevented from interfering (openly) but is also inhibited in fulfilling the legitimate function of preventing elective dictatorship. The government, meanwhile, would not want to precipitate a constitutional crisis, with all the uncertainty it would bring, and are therefore wary of introducing legislation which the monarch might strongly object to.

A democratically accountable Head of State would be able to exercise those powers with a clear conscience and would also act as the ultimate source of authority for the Judicial branch, which could then be properly independent – allowing the courts to confront negligence or misconduct in the other branches more robustly than they are able to at present. Our Sovereign Jury proposal, in its basic form, would go some way to addressing this problem but we believe a mature system should have a Head of State who is democratically accountable.

This could be readily achieved through a simple extension of the processes outlined in our pages on Spontaneous Democracy and Sovereign Juries, making the monarch subject to recall motions in the same way as every other position of power will be.

However, our current position is that there is no need to subject the office of Head of State to the cost (and questionable benefits) of an automatic electoral cycle. The essence of democratic accountability is the public’s power to dismiss its leaders – this is distinct from the power to choose them. As long as there is a mechanism by which the public could spontaneously trigger the dismissal of the Head of State, we think the problems raised above would cease to be significant and the monarchy would be able to provide effective oversight of the whole system.

Dismissal of the monarch does, of course, imply the appointment of a successor but we see no reason why the incumbent’s designated heir should not generally be acceptable. However, it would probably be wise to recognise a cascade of three or four different appointment methods – with a free-for-all election as the final option for when three or four monarchs had been dismissed within a relatively short period of time.

As to whether the designated heir should be the offspring of the incumbent, we see no inherent incompatibility between hereditary monarchy and democratic principles. There are undoubtedly advantages in having a default heir and the best person to nominate a successor is probably the person who is best placed to understand the demands of the job: the incumbent.


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